State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, will be back in a Montgomery County courtroom a week before the 2015 legislative session gets underway. The legislator, who just won his third term in office, is facing a new trial related to allegations of "ambulance chasing."
On Monday, a judge declared a mistrial in the latest case against Reynolds, who was found guilty Friday of six misdemeanor counts of solicitation of professional employment.
Steve Jackson, one of Reynolds' defense attorneys, said state district Judge Lisa Michalk granted a request for the mistrial because of a "juror experiencing what she said was outside influence that affected her saying 'guilty.'"
Reynolds, a Houston-area personal injury attorney, was facing 10 felony counts of barratry. He is accused of illegally offering legal services to accident victims within 30 days of their incidents.
Reynolds has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the case against him has been a miscarriage of justice and that the charges were "selective prosecution by a very conservative delegation” in Montgomery County. “The only thing they wanted was me to do was resign my seat,” Reynolds said Monday in an interview.
Kelly Blackburn, the assistant Montgomery County district attorney trying Reynolds’ case, confirmed the mistrial and said that a new trial had been set for Jan. 5. He said the judge declared a mistrial based on a juror stating that the verdict was influenced by fellow jurors talking about "outside information" during deliberations. "All other 11 jurors denied this and stated that they reached their verdict based on the evidence that was submitted during the trial,” Blackburn said.
He said that his team is working to determine if it can legally retry Reynolds on felony barratry charges.
According to court filings, Reynolds was one of eight Houston-area attorneys accused of paying Robert Valdez Sr., 48, to scour accident reports for victims and get them to sign contracts to be represented by the attorneys.
Valdez is currently serving a five-year sentence for his role in the arrangement.
Jackson said that when Valdez took the stand last week, he was unable to say Reynolds knew the cases were illegally solicited.
This is the second time Reynolds has been charged with barratry. The first case was dropped in February 2013 after two Harris County investigators involved in the case came under fire for allegedly stealing evidence.
Blackburn said his office worked with the FBI, Texas Rangers and the Conroe Police Department on investigating the second case, adding that “Harris County had nothing to do with the investigation.”
Barratry is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
According to the Texas secretary of state’s office, a felony conviction would disqualify Reynolds from serving out his term, but a misdemeanor would not. Erin Daly, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Joe Straus, said the House could expel Reynolds by a vote of two-thirds of the chamber — if the House chose to do so. No indication has been given that such a vote would be expected.
The State Bar of Texas’ civil case against Reynolds, alleging professional misconduct in connection to the barratry scheme, is set for trial to start on Dec. 15. A ruling against him could lead to his disbarment.